• Although Lisa and I were still depressed over the lost of our much-loved store cat, Zola, we decided to stop by the 32nd Annual Paperback Collectors Show in Mission Hills on Sunday, March 27th. Run primarily by Tom Lesser, a great promoter and collector of paperbacks himself, along with Rose Idlet, owner of Black Ace Books in Los Angeles.
    "The show began as part of my collecting hobby but gradually developed into 
             a large show which is now held for collectors and members of the public who 
             just want to come, walk  around, maybe get some books signed and meet the 
                                                                                                                        -Tom Lesser

    We've been going to the show for over a decade now and have always enjoyed meeting collectors and pouring over the tables and stacks of paperbacks. However, this year we just didn't feel the spirit of the show all that much and only came away with a handful of books. Nothing to do with the show (which was active and actually crowded a bit this year), it was more to do with our somber mood. Still, we got to see a lot of friends including author Christa Faust, who was excited about the show and seemed to be spending way too much money.

    The Paperback Show takes up three rooms at the Mission Hills, CA., Valley Inn and Conference Center. The main room is where you enter and pay the 5 bucks to get in. Then there is a smaller room off to the side and another large room where most of the authors appear to promote and sign their books.

    Most dealers display their books face up or spine up on long tables. Some dealers have additional boxes of books underneath the tables which makes for a lot of people on their knees browsing and going through endless stacks of paperbacks. The more organized sellers list books by publisher or have selections of authors works all together. And, of course, there are related paper ephemera like pulp magazines, posters and magazines.

    I got a chance to see three or four of my favorite paperback people. James Madison who sells via Ebay and via mail/email, always has the best organized table with lots of good vintage paperback bargains. He's such a great guy and a top-notch paperback dealer, too.

    Also got to see Lynn Munroe, who is a primarily a private dealer and historian. He has done so much for vintage paperback history and I've enjoyed every book he's ever recommended.

    Ron Blum of Kayo Books always has some of the rarest and most interesting paperbacks. He had a sleaze paperback with the original painting used for the cover on display (see pix below).  His San Fran store is a must see if you visit that town. The store website is pretty cool, too. Ron's wife, Maria, is always at their large dealer table while Ron's out looking for deals. It was  pleasure to see her again and chat a bit. Their store is doing well, glad to say.

    There is always a long list of authors signing at the Paperback Show every year. This year there was Ann Bannon, Bill Pronzini, Donald Glut, Bruce Kimmel and William F. Nolan just to name a few. I snapped a pix of Donald Glut, a very interesting author/screenwriter who in addition to his long and varied writing career is an expert on dinosaurs. I wish I had had the time to chat with him a bit.

    I had a enjoyable chat with Gary Lovisi (stupid me for not taking a pix) who edits the Paperback Parade (a semi-annual mag that covers vint pap authors/history), runs Gryphon Books and is a noted hard-boiled author himself. He's done so much to bring forgotten authors to light. In the current issue of PP #77 he covers the jazz musician and paperback writer Charles Beckman, Jr.

    I came away with only 6 books this year and Lisa picked up three nifty James M. Cain paperbacks. I just grabbed books that interested me. Picked up only one book by an author I've been looking for, Jack Ehrlich. Looks like a good book. I plan on posting the first paragraphs of each of the books just for fun and perhaps doing an reading of them as well for fun.

    You can find out more information about the annual Paperback Show here. I took some video of the event and will edit it together in a week or so. Will post here and on Vimeo. Nothing special, just a short simple documentary of my time at the show. Here's a little snippet:

    If you happen to be in Los Angeles in late March sometime, I highly recommend the annual Paperback show. Bring two 20 dollar bills with you and you'll walk out with a bag full of great vintage paperbacks, plus a lot of new friends.
  • Ugetsu Monogatori 1953 (picnic scene)
     I first came across Tales of Moonlight and Rain after viewing Mizoguchi's brilliant film Ugetsu Monogatori (1953) which adapts two stories ( Homecoming and Bewitched) from a collection of 16th century Japanese Gothic tales written by Ueda Akinari.  Since I was deeply impressed with the Mizoguchi film, I wanted to read the two original stories from the collection. So when Criterion released their wonderful 2-disc set of Ugetsu (the name was shortened to one word for American audiences) they also included the two stories in a small booklet and I was finally able to read them. I was entranced and immediately wanted to find a good edition of the full collection. And thanks to working in a great bookstore, I found an excellent collection published by Columbia University Press in 1972. It reprints the University of Tokyo Press edition which came out the year before.  I've scanned the front, rear and spine of the book for you and posted it below.

    This hardback edition is beautifully designed featuring an inked version of an old woodblock print from, presumably an early edition of the book. Several other b&w versions of the original prints are included as accompanying illustrations for the 9 stories that comprise Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Click on the image above to see a larger version. It's from "Bewitched", one of the stories Mizoguchi adapted for his film.

    And here's another woodblock illustration from "Bewitched". In this scene, you see the two vengeful spirits disappearing in the waves.

    Ueda Akinari (1734-1809) is a highly regarded writer and scholar whose life ran the gamut of experience. He was born to an Osaka prostitute never knowing who his father was. Adopted by a wealthy merchant at a young age. His father cared for him and gave him a good education which set Ueda with an inquiring mind for the rest of his life. He survived a small-pox infection as a young man and felt that his parents prayers to the god of the Kashima Inari Shrine are what saved him. This, perhaps, is what fixed a live-long fascination with the supernatural and the occult.

    Ueda Akinari
    Tales of Moonlight and Rain (1776) was a departure for Ueda, who was primarily known for light comic sketches of contemporary life. His movement towards these supernatural stories reflected his increasing knowledge and love of Chinese literature which is rich in other-worldly tales. According to the translator, Kengi Hamada, who also wrote the fine "About the author" for this edition, Ueda the source material came from "ancient vintages". He states that Ueda "adapted, reshaped, and retold his stories in his own peculiar settings, representing interactions of history, mores, maxims, superstitious beliefs, and personality conflicts of an altogether different milieu".

    The modern reader of Tales of Moonlight and Rain might miss some of the originality of this work since it's central to Japanese literature and has influenced world literature, but is not as well know in America. We so see some of the tropes re-produced in these stories in our own horror/gothic fiction of the present day. Somehow, the social conscience of the original tales is missed in our re-telling of the story-tropes. What struck me in reading Tales of Moonlight and Rain (aside from the wonderful poetry and characterizations) is how masterfully the tales are woven into a moral and social construct. It's as if Ueda is saying "people are always going to mis-understand the supernatural; always going to be a victim because of their lack of knowledge of history". I'd also add "because of their lack of humanity". In some of these stories, for the modern reader, the spirits of the dead are often more sympathetic than the victims. 

    The female ghost in Ugetsu (film)
    Ueda is a powerful writer even in this slightly antiquarian translation. Of course, I very much enjoyed the stories adapted into the Mizoguchi film, but two other stories were equally as captivating: "Demon", the story of a priest who takes on the cannibalistic demon who is haunting a local temple, and "Reunion", which is the story of the power of friendship and commitment. I believe "Reunion" also contains a self-portrait of Ueda in the character of Hasebe Samon, the scholar who loves nothing more than to read and be with his books. 

    One of the stories ("Exiled") requires a knowledge of Japanese history to fully appreciate, but even here the writing is so striking and the situation so poetic/gothic that it hardly matters. All of the stories are sharply drawn with an eye towards a combination of the mundane and the macabre. I savored each story reading one a day at bedtime. I found that familiar shadows in my room started looking strange and disturbing after I finished a story and put the book on my bedside table. 

    Tales of Moonlight and Rain is a remarkable collection of stories written by an imaginative and intelligent man whose love and fear of the supernatural are caught in his words like fireflies in the darkness. This collection is highly recommended as is the film adaptation. 

    Note: Columbia University Press has a new version of Tales of Moonlight and Rain with a new translation and introduction. I haven't read this version, but will be doing so very soon. In the meantime, you can find out more about it here. There's also an attractive edition by Routledge that looks interesting. Well, there goes my paycheck again. 

    Editions of Akinari's other works are hard to find and expensive. Also, books about him are not easy to find in English. I hope that my favorite publisher Reaktion Books will consider doing a new book on Ueda Akinari in their "critical lives" series. It certainly would be welcome by this reader. 

  • Cover by Thomi Wroblewski

          "The days seem to flash by like a speeded-up chase scene in a 1920s comedy.......
            patrols always behind them, bullets thudding into flesh, bombs in Middletown bars 
            and theaters and restaurants. A wake of glass, blood and brains and the hot meaty 
            smell of entrails remind Audrey of a rabbit he had once seen dissected in biology 
            class. A girl had fainted. He could see her slump to the floor with a soft plop.
                Shatter Day always closer..."
                                                                                                                       page 255

    Before I jumped feet first into the kaleidescope of drugs, piracy, private eyes, homo-erotic sex, hangings and boys adventure pulp parodies that is Cities of the Red Night, I read a terrific short biography of Burroughs written by Phil Baker and published by a very cool British publisher Reaktion Press. Part of their "Critical Lives" series (I've read their books on Gertrude Stein and John Luis Borges...excellent books), William S. Burroughs packs as much biographical/critical information as you can in 192 pages. I like how Phil Baker writes and he, for the most part, is pretty even-handed and objective about wild boy Bill. Some parts struck me as new even though I read the huge (and probably definitive) bio of Burroughs by Ted Morgan years ago. Burroughs infatuation with Scientology, his continuous search for alternate reality/possession systems and theories (including attending a weekend seminar on "out of body" travel) and his discovery of the deep joy of living with cats late in life, all added dimensions to his personality that made reading Cities such an interesting, but frustrating experience.

    Cities of the Red Night is the first book of a trilogy of novels Burroughs started writing in the early 80s (the other two books are The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands) while living in "The Bunker" in New York which, years before, had been the locker room of the YMCA building at 222 Bowery. Windowless and without any natural light, Burroughs liked the vast space and entertained a growing coterie of punk followers given celebrity status as a Beat icon. He also became addicted to heroin again, which he found preferable to the curse of alcohol.

    One fellow who showed up at the Bunker was James Grauerholz, who after a short affair with Burroughs, became his amanuensis and eventual literary executor of the Burroughs estate. One of the dedications in Cities of the Red Night is "to James Graueholz, who edited this book into present time". How much James actually kept and/or cut from this novel is anyone's guess. It's an already fragmented novel, so you can't really tell. Certainly it's not easy to write when you are stoned, although Burroughs had learned to manage his habit over many, many years of his addiction. Still, it's important to remember he wrote it in the Bunker while living the life of a cult figure and coping with renewed heroin addiction. That sex, drugs, youth, addiction and disease figure prominently is no coincidence. Burroughs was writing his life out on the pages.

    There's really no way to capture the "story" of Cities of the Red Night. Ostensibly it winds three strands of story which take place in different time periods: one is a boys-adventure pirate story taking place in the 18th century where the pirates are attempting to live their lives and seek freedom based on the "articles' written by a real-life Captain Mission whose community died out; another is a modern day (80's) story of a private eye (Clem Snide, Private Asshole....Burroughs has great wit with names) who's investigating the ritual sexual murder of several boys. There are also other plot strands including the CIA and Virus B-23 which sounds very much like an AIDS-like plague, although this book was written well before AIDS became widely known. Add to the mix, Burroughs speculation on the origins of various races (red, white, yellow) and his obsessions with hanging as an erotic act, plus the many and varied uses of male semen and you have a very funny, strange, fascinating, repulsive and occasionally boring novel that is beautifully written and, well, perhaps not that well edited. 

    Reading Cities of the Red Night is an on-again, off-again experience. I actually began another book while I was reading Cities. This was around the middle of the novel where the book is the weakest. It's also very strange that the book starts out somewhat traditionally (after an invocation to a God and the story of Captain James Mission; all unneeded in my view) and then proceeds to become more incoherent and scatological as it progresses. Eventually, you feel that Burroughs is just trying to insult you or shock you. Perhaps this worked in the 80s, but it is just boring for contemporary readers. 

    Then the novel starts catching fire again right around the time of the big battle between ancient cities starts (whose names were created by Brion Gysin, long time influence on Burroughs). Zipping back and forth between times and various story strands, Burroughs eventually winds everything up in a great ending that had me turning the pages as quickly as I could. Something I think Burroughs would have enjoyed hearing about. 
    The ending is a ironic and twisted and utterly perfect. I was left with an odd mix of feelings at the end of the novel, but mostly admiration for it's daring and a certain amount of sadness for several of the characters, most specifically Audrey. 

    I recommend this novel for anyone who has already read Burroughs and want another fix. New readers may struggle unless you have some reading stamina, an open mind and a good sense of humor. Burroughs likes to fuck with the reader and sometimes it's uncomfortable reading. But maybe that's just me. 

    On to The Place of Dead Roads

    PS be sure to check out the Reaktion books site for the Burroughs bio and the rest of their excellent books. Also, the edition I read was published by Picador (UK publisher) in 1982 with a cover design by Thomi Wroblewski, who has designed other Burroughs covers in a fantastic style that perfectly matches Burroughs own. So if cover design means anything to you, get this edition. Shop at the abebooks.com site and put Picador in the publisher category for copies of the this edition you can purchase. 
  • Here are a few recent additions to my growing vintage paperback collection. These came into the Iliad Bookshop today and caught my eye. (Note: you can click on the image for the original size which is quite large). All of my book covers are available on the Booklad "Book Covers" page.

    Lancer Books 74627-075 (1970)

    Airmont (1964)

    Pyramid Books R-1170 (1965)
    Cover painting by Jack Gaughan

    Lancer Books 75346-095 (1968)

    Pyramid Books F-794 (1962)

    Daw Books No. 206 (1976) Cover art by Deane Cate

    Monarch Books 297 (1963) Cover by Ralph Brillhart

    Zenith Books ZB-14 (1959)
  • From Mark Frauenfelder at boingboing.net: a very cool post on designer Jim Tierney's designs for Jules Verne book covers. Here's the link (and pix below):

    Jim Tierney Book Covers

    I love the strong contrast in colors matched with the whimsical design. Perfect for Verne's books. Unfortunately, as the blog post states they are design projects and not commercially available. You can see more of his work at his main website here:

    Jim Tierney Website

    I also follow a wonderful book blog on cover design called:

    The Caustic Cover Critic

    From this blog comes an interesting Edwardian take on HP Lovecraft designed by Travis Louie.

  • I recorded a very short piece from Grace Krilanovich's wonderful novel The Orange Eats Creeps reviewed here at Bookland. Published last year by Two Dollar Radio, I urge you to buy this very unusual and imaginative novel.

    I hope my reading will give you a taste of the novel's style. Definitely check out the novel's page at the publisher's site.

    Short Reading of "The Orange Eats Creeps" by Grace Krilanovich by rickygrove

  • The war raged across the galaxy. Billions had died, billions more were doomed. Moons, planets, the very stars themselves, faced destruction, cold-blooded, brutal, and worse, random. The Idirans fought for their Faith; the Culture for its moral right to exist. Principles were at stake. There could be no surrender.
    Within the cosmic conflict, an individual crusade. Deep within a fabled labyrinth on a barren world, a Planet of the Dead proscribed to mortals, lay a fugitive Mind. Both the Culture and the Idirans sought it. It was the fate of Horza, the Changer, and his motley crew of unpredictable mercenaries, human and machine, actually to find it, and with it their own destruction.
    .............................................................. from Iain-Banks.net

    Iain Banks first novel Wasp Factory knocked me out when it first came out in 1984. Dark, poetic and sharp-edged prose made the book so powerful it lingered for years (literally). Read it and you'll see what I mean as it's one of my favorite first novels. Hell, it's one of my favorite novels. 
    What I can't explain is why I never read any more of his novels. Certainly, I had many of them in my library and even on my bedside table, but just never started them. Even when Mr. Banks began a series of SciFi novels that received thundering reviews, I still waited and waited. "What for", I ask myself. Just too many other books that demanded my attention. 
    Well, all of that's changed with Consider Phlebas, the first of Mr. Banks "Culture" novels. Determined to get back to reading Mr. Banks, I spent last week enthralled by his imagination and ideas. Described as "space opera" in the blurbs on the back of the book (it's not), this intelligent novel follow an unusual man, Horza, who comes from a race of "changers" and can adjust their bodies to look like other races. He is a perfect spy and the bulk of the novel follows his efforts to retrieve a "Mind" (sentient AI) who has isolated itself on a "Planet of the Dead" (world where all life has been destroyed due to war). 

    Horza is in competition with Balveda, an agent from the Culture, a race dominated by technology and artificial life. There is a strange respect and attraction between these two diametrically opposed characters. The story that Mr. Banks weaves with them is the real heart of the book. The climax of the story is the last line of the book (sans the brilliant Appendices). 
    The book is filled with striking visual imagery and fascinating (and at times horrifying) situations that keep you glued to page. It's one of those books where everything goes silent around you and your mind is filled with the world of the book. Mr. Banks take on traditional SciFi themes like war, race and nationalism is fresh and, at times, moving. 
    This is first of the Culture novels. I've got all of the others coming in the mail. I'll be writing more as I progress in the series. 
    Be sure to check out Iain-Banks.net for lots of interesting info. Here is the first part of a recent interview with Iain Banks (it's a radio interview)